Oklahoma high school boys basketball: Why Carl Albert chose to wear masks when it plays
MIDWEST CITY — Jaden Harrell dribbled the ball across the half-court line before turning to his left to get the play from his coach.
The senior guard at Carl Albert then turned to his four teammates on the court. Dribbling with his left hand, he pulled down his mask with his right, calling out the play before quickly putting the mask back over his nose and mouth. About 10 seconds later, the Titans were sprinting back on defense after a basket.
At first glance, nothing seems out of the ordinary with Carl Albert’s boys basketball team. The Titans are the top-ranked team in Class 5A and are capable of beating any team in the state on any given night. Yet Carl Albert is doing something different this season.
Players wear masks during games. Not just in warmups or on the bench.
“We just started looking at the rules and regulations and analyzing that,” Carl Albert coach Jay Price said. “We would like to not be the team that’s the reason we don’t get to play. Let’s do everything we can to protect ourselves throughout the season.”
The idea came to Price early in the season. One of Carl Albert’s freshman players guarded an opponent who tested positive for COVID-19. Then the Titans had to contact trace, resulting in several players having to quarantine.
Price began to look at the rules and Centers for Disease Control guidelines about social distancing and quarantining. In sports, it’s recommended to not be in close contact with someone for longer than 15 minutes. The freshman player only guarded the opponent who tested positive for 12 minutes of game time, but because Carl Albert’s player wasn’t wearing a mask, he was forced to quarantine along with opponents.
Had he been wearing a mask, the chances he would have to quarantine drop drastically.
Price went to his seniors, which include Harrell, James Locke, Antonio Watson and Quentin Woodson, and presented them with an idea. Let’s start practicing in masks and try to wear them during games. If it’s too uncomfortable, we don’t have to do it, but let’s try it out.
“Coach didn’t make us wear them,” Harrell said. “But he made it an option. We didn’t want to quarantine if someone else tested positive, so we decided to wear them.”
And in every game, the Titans have worn masks.
Carl Albert hasn’t had to have any players quarantine or miss time because an opponent tested positive or any contact tracing due to basketball-related activities. It has missed only one game, and that came because its opponent had to quarantine.
The masks never come off players once they enter the gym except when they’re quickly calling out plays or taking a drink of water. During the course of play, the masks will occasionally slide down or move around, but players are quick to adjust them.
Masks have become as integral part of the uniform as the jersey and sneakers.
“Sometimes the mask gets pretty sweaty, like at halftime, or occasionally it makes it hard to breath sometimes,” Watson said. “But you know you’re doing it for a good reason.”
Harrell and Watson said Carl Albert has yet to play an opponent that also wears masks. Not even the girls team wear them. Price hasn’t heard of another team following what the Titans are doing.
There are a couple college programs whose players are wearing masks, including Boston and Holy Trinity, which played against each other on Jan. 6.
Opponents often comment on the masks, asking about comfort. Some opposing players say they wish their team would wear them because they know it gives them an opportunity to play games and avoid getting sick or having to quarantine.
Even officials have been dumbfounded when the Titans take the court with masks on.
None of that matters, though. Carl Albert is doing everything it can to play a full season, keep everyone healthy and have a chance to compete for a state championship.
After winning their 10th straight game Friday, it’s safe to say the masks aren’t holding them back from their goals.
“The kids have embraced it, and we’ve just kept going with it,” Price said.
Reporter Cameron Jourdan covers high school sports across the Oklahoma City metro and state. Have a story idea for Cameron? He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at @Cam_Jourdan. Support Cameron’s work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today at oklahoman.com/subscribe or by using the link at the top of this page.